Breaking Archaeology News! – First Philistine Cemetery Ever Discovered

As reported by The Times of Israel,

Archaeologists digging at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon announced Sunday the discovery of the first cemetery belonging to the ancient Israelites’ dreaded and shadowy nemeses, the Philistines.

Archaeological dig at Ashkelon
A student excavates a 10th-9th century BC burial in the excavation of the Philistine cemetery by the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon. (Melissa Aja /Leon Levy Expedition)

The discovery of a sizable cemetery, with over 210 individuals, at a site conclusively linked to the Philistines, was a “critical missing link” that allows scholars “to fill out the story of the Philistines,” said Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College.

The cemetery, discovered just outside the ancient city walls and dated to between the 11th and 8th centuries BCE — a period associated with the rise of the Israelites — may contain thousands of individuals, providing an abundance of material to study, he said.

With that broad a population, “we’re going to be able to reconstruct what the Philistines as a group were like,” Master said.

Throughout much of its 22 layers of settlement, Ashkelon was a “great seaport,” situated on the Mediterranean and on the main coastal trade route,” Harvard University’s Larry Stager, co-director of the dig, said. It was significantly larger than cities inland during the Bronze and Iron Age, with 10-12,000 people, because it could sustain greater population through commerce.

Ashkelon was one of the five main Philistine cities for six centuries — , along with Gaza, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron — from the 1100s BCE down to Ashkelon’s destruction by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 604 BCE.

“We’ve uncovered their houses, we’ve uncovered their trading networks, we’ve uncovered all aspects of their culture,” Master said. With the discovery of the cemetery, “we’re finally going to see the people themselves.”


Who are the Philistines?

The Philistines were the arch-enemies of Israel. This is the same group of people that we remember Samson and the judges fighting against. It’s also where Goliath came from, the giant that David slew. The most concise description comes from the Jewish Public Library.

The Philistines are referred to as the descendants of the Casluchim in Genesis 10:14 and Exodus 13:17. Known as a seafaring nation, the Philistines were a non-Semitic people who left Crete and arrived in Canaan at the beginning of the 12th century B.C.E. The Philistines inhabited the Mediterranean coast of Canaan during the period of the Book of Judges. They founded five principalities – GazaAsheklonAshdodEkron, and Gath.

Their highly-developed weapons brought a great threat to the Israelites. During the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites purposely took a southern route to circumvent them. The Philistines often battled against the Israelites. The first King of Israel, Saul, temporarily weakened them. Later, a little-known shepherd by the name of David (later second King of Israel) defeated them after his battle with the large Philistine by the name of Goliath. The Philistines were reduced to mainly commercial ventures rather than military ventures. Throughout the Books of Kings, different Jewish leaders fought the nation until the Assyrians completely defeated them. The Philistines then assimilated into the surrounding cultures and ceased to exist as a separate nation.

The name Palestine originates from the Philistine inhabitance of the land of Judea. After the Romans conquered the region in the second century C.E., the Romans used the term Palestinia to refer to the region in an attempt to minimize Jewish attachment to the land. The Arabic use of the term Filastin is from this Latin root.

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